By EW Staff
November 14, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST
Bob Marshak

Exploring the inner workings of the international drug trade is a snap compared with navigating Hollywood’s studio system — at least that was the case with this thriller from the director of ”Out of Sight.” Based on the 1990 British TV miniseries ”Traffik,” the movie was originally in the fast lane at Fox, but it was put into turnaround last winter — ironically, just as Soderbergh was enjoying overwhelming buzz for the soon to be released ”Erin Brockovich.”

The director then started to court USA Films, but when Harrison Ford expressed interest, the project bounced back to Fox, which had stipulated that it got another pass if the star came on board. Then, last March, with the budget escalating above original projections of around $30 million, a looming April start date, and Ford deciding to pass, Fox dumped the movie again, leaving Soderbergh to organize preproduction (paid out of his own pocket), find a studio (he went back to USA), and cast a lead (Douglas stepped in).

”It was harrowing,” the director acknowledges, adding that Fox ”had questions about the commercial viability, which is understandable. Has any drug movie since ”The French Connection” made money? I don’t think so. Then you add into the mix the revolving door of stars, and I wasn’t surprised.” Only days before shooting began, the cast filled out, with Zeta-Jones as a dealer’s wife (a role rewritten to accommodate her pregnancy), Del Toro as a Mexican cop, and Dennis Quaid, Benjamin Bratt, Albert Finney, Amy Irving, and Don Cheadle. ”You end up with the cast you’re supposed to,” says the director. GOOD SIGN ”If we did it right,” Soderbergh says, ”it’ll be ‘The French Connection’ crossed with ‘Nashville.”’ THEN AGAIN What was he saying about drug thrillers not making money?